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MARRIAGE DONE RIGHT, A COLUMN BY JAMES SHERIDAN

Don’t try to understand spouse

Wednesday, September 25, 2013 - 12:01 am

“I love you just the way you are,” Billy Joel sang in 1977, about his wife, Elizabeth Webber. Authors Jay and Laura Laffoon reply, “Yeah, right!”

Apparently he didn't love her just the way she was; they divorced in 1982. Every husband and wife has things he or she'd like to change about a spouse.

Husbands and wives usually try to understand each other. This would be commendable if the motive was to better love each other. Unfortunately, the Laffoons warn that the usual motive is that “if we understand them, maybe we can change them.”

The Laffoons remind us that our wedding commitment is not to understand our spouse or to change them. Instead, “the commitment we've made is to care about them.” Marriages are strongest when we care about what is important to our spouse “simply because it's important to them.”

We can do this naturally with our children. If soccer is important to them, we make sure they get their practices and games, even if we don't care for soccer. And we cheer them on. We're excited because they're excited.

With spouses it's a different story. They want to run the vacuum before the guests arrive. We balk; after all “it looks good enough. Besides, who cares?” They want to watch a football game. We balk; after all “there'll be another game on next week! Besides, who cares?”

And, that's the problem. The Laffoons explain: Husbands and wives often don't care about the things that are important to their spouse. Husbands may take a bullet for their wives, but don't want to hold them without expecting sex, spend 15 minutes a day talking with them or help around the house. Wives may truly believe they'd follow their men to the ends of the earth, but won't follow them to watch their favorite team play, to the workshop while they putter with their project car or to the bedroom to have an evening of physical intimacy.

You don't need to understand why something is important to your spouse.

Caring about the things our spouse cares for is an essential element of every successful marriage; understanding is not. The Laffoons explain: “When we care, we scream into their lives, 'You matter to me!'” This, in turn, fulfills an essential need of the human spirit: To be cared for by someone we care for; to be loved by someone we hold dear; and to be respected by someone we esteem.

Women typically concern themselves with relationship and emotional issues, while men typically concern themselves with information and problem-solving issues. Both want to be appreciated for their inherent abilities.

Marriages are not static events; they require constant maintenance and interaction. Even the best friends drift apart if they don't keep in touch. Likewise every marriage is constantly moving: either toward joy and fulfillment or pain and disappointment.

The Laffoons explain that every word and every gesture impacts our marriage. And when those words and actions express that you care about what your spouse cares for, you are moving steadily toward a healthy and happy marriage.

2013, All Rights Reserved. James Sheridan’s website is www.marriagedoneright.com. This column is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel.